Drug Money

Medical Trials Run Without Real Doctors

Excited bargain hunters packed the hall in Augusta, Ga., in December 1998 for one of the weirdest auctions of all time.

On the block were items from antiques and paintings to suits of armor worth a fortune. They all belonged to the town's infamous Richard Borison and Bruce Diamond.

They no longer need this old stuff; it doesn't work with their new décor.

Pharmacologist Diamond, now in prison, was convicted on 53 counts, including practicing medicine without a license and prescription fraud. 48 Hours Correspondent Susan Spencer reports.

"I liked the money," Diamond explained. "It was almost like an addiction to see how much you can make. It was like a game."

Over eight years, he and his partner, psychiatrist Dr. Borison, raked in more than $11 million, turning human drug trials into their personal money machine.

They pretended to be doing the trials for the Medical College of Georgia, where they both were on staff, but they kept payments meant for the college for themselves.

In the process, they deceived some of the top drug companies in the country, to say nothing of the patients they put at risk.

Drug companies pay enormous amounts to get doctors to do drug trials, sometimes as much as $20,000 per patient in a study. It's a system that invites corruption.

"I know there are an awful lot of doctors getting into it," Diamond said. "Probably ones that aren't even competent in doing research."

Bill Hatcher said he had to come to the auction to see how they spent it all. Marion, Hatcher's wife of 52 years who had Alzheimer's disease, was in one of the trials. She has since died.

"When you discover that your wife, or your spouse, or your loved one has this disease, then you become very, very desperate," Bill Hatcher said.

He saw an ad seeking Alzheimer's patients to participate in a test of an experimental drug designed to slow the disease.

It was their understanding from the very begining that this study was being supervised by the Medical College of Georgia. "No if, ands or buts. I mean it was plainly in the paper," said Bill Hatcher. The lie was even caught on tape in a video the clinic shot to record Marion Hatcher's progress.

Though these trials involved powerful drugs, no doctor oversaw Marion Hatcher's care and she was getting worse, Bill Hatcher said. So where was Dr. Borison?

"I met Dr. Borison the day I withdrew my wife from the program, which was one and a half years later," Bill Hatcher said.

Janice Huckeba never saw Dr. Borison either. Her husband Lewis also was in the Alzheimer's study. One day he became violent and psychotic. Panicked, she called the clinic.

Dr. Diamond was there, but he's not a medical doctor. "Dr. Diamond wrote a prescription for my husband and signed it," she said. She did not know at the time that Diamond had a doctorat but was not a medical doctor.

And Bruce Diamond wasn't correcting anyone's impression. After all, of the staffers who saw patients, he did have the best credentials.

Angela Touhey was just two years out of college but she was the research coordinator - in charge of depressed and schizophrenic patients.

"I determined whether they needed to go up a dose," she said. "Who did I think I was that I could do that kind of thing?"

She tried explaining her concerns to the doctors.

She recalled Dr. Diamond saying, "We don't care how these patients are doing. We want to know how many patients you recruited in the past week."

Dr. Diamond said he remembered no such thing, but he didn't deny that volume was key to keeping the money rolling in.

It came in so fast that Dr. Borison had trouble dealing with it all, according to prosecutor David Mcloughlin, who noted he would deposit six or seven multithousand dollar checks every day at a drive-through bank.

"Banks love checking accounts that are this big," McLoughlin said.

It took a hefty chunk of money to buy all the antiques, art and armor but the doctor had big plans.

Dr. Borison clearly felt a man's home should be his castle. An architect's model depicts the 11,000-square-foot castle he planned to build just outside Augusta. "This is Borison's pride and joy," said McLoughlin. This castle was slated to have medieval pennants hanging from it, chandeliers hanging from turrets and a moat.

And it might have been built but for Angela Touhey, who was desperately worried that the patients were at risk. She blew the whistle.

If she hadn't they probably would have gotten away with it.

But how did they get away with it as long as they did? Who is watching doctors to make sure drug trials are run properly and to guarantee that patients are safe? The short answer is, no one.

Does the system give the patients any safeguards? "If the doctor's not acting in good faith, I'd say the patient's at risk," says George Grob, deputy inspector general for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The supposed watchdog in the system is what's called the Institutional Review Board, an independent organization set up to approve and oversee drug trials. But it often oversees only on paper.

It's probably one of the crucial weaknessess of the the current system, according to Grob. There's no requirement for any hands-on inspection.

Diamond estimated that he was probably visited once in 10 years. "They monitor us quarterly by paperwork," he said.

About the only thing to discourage a doctor bent on fraud may be what happens if you get caught. Dr. Borison, the mastermind, is serving 15 years in a maxiumum security prison. He refused to speak to 48 Hours.

Diamond, who is serving five years, apparently found it changed him.

"I'd like to say at this point (o) who's ever watching and whoever I hurt in this process, I'm sorry," Diamond said. After 14 months in prison, he's repenting, he said. "I know what I did was wrong and I'm really sorry."

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